At this stage, the ENVI was functioning at its most basic level, providing energy use information on its display. The device can be connected to a PC or directly to the Internet and, from there, integrated with various PC applications or with Google’s PowerMeter Internet enabled service to provide a graphic interface that is accessible from any computer and most smart phones. I chose to use the provided Ethernet-to-USB cable to connect the Envi to my laptop and let the laptop software distribute the monitor’s data to Google.
It was the PC integration stage of the set-up process that took the most amount of time and was one of only two moments that presented any sort of “hassle/” All of the software and drivers needed to get the Envi interfaced with a computer and, if desired, with Google Powermeter, are located online. To obtain the USB drivers and Current Cost’s monitoring software, I followed directions provided in the manual which involved searching Current Cost’s website and navigating the site to the download area. A few links are mis-directing and it took a moment to find the appropriate downloads. Once found, they were easily downloaded and installed inside four minutes time with a broadband internet connection.
Finally, I set about making a few adjustments to the ENVI’s on-board settings. The clock needed to be corrected manually and I wanted to input my utility’s electricity rate so that the Envi could provide accurate calculations of my current and on-going energy costs. Here is where the ENVI’s user interface could stand a little improvement. Since the ENVI only has three buttons to push, navigating its various settings pages is similar to setting a three-button digital watch. Press and hold button 1 for three seconds to set the clock, or press and hold button 1 and 2 for six seconds to access the metric or standard preferences. It’s un-intuitive enough to need to keep the manual handy but certainly not a major issue. Another opportunity for U.I. improvement would have been to allow the ENVI to cycle quickly through numbers as settings are being made. As it is, when I had to adjust the time from 2:01 to the correct time of 3:57, I had to advance minute by minute, pressing the button each time. I expect to be able to hold the button down and have it race through the numbers, just like most digital clocks do. It just took far longer than it should have to get some simple settings made.
Those considering the ENVI should take into consideration that the transmitter requires the use of 2 D-cell batteries which will, at some point, need to be replaced. Current Cost’s website says that the transmitter that is currently shipping has a seven year battery life.
Testng and performance:
Before I go on to describe my experience with using the ENVI, I wanted to point out some of the expansion options the Current Cost system provides. By default, the ENVI package comes with what is needed to provide an overview of energy use. That is to say that it will tell you how much the entire house or business is consuming and when it is consumed. The system may be expanded through accessory purchases to monitor up to nine individual circuits or appliances. For individual circuits, more sensor jaws and transmitter boxes will be necessary. For appliance monitoring, individual appliance jacks can be purchased to run in-line between the wall outlet and the appliance’s power plug. Each additional connection will be represented by its own graph on Google Powermeter or whatever monitoring software is chosen. For our testing, we simply monitored the “whole-house” energy use.
Some people-and I am one of them-have a built-in desire to “move the needle” on a dashboard. There is something strangely gratifying about making changes and seeing the effect of those changes in real time. Previously, I knew generically that turning off various lights or unplugging certain appliances or power strips would have an effect on my power consumption and, to whatever degree, would probably lower my bill. With an energy monitor, the consequences of my actions are born out in real time and can be placed into a context that helps to understand how effective or in-effective certain energy conservation strategies are.
To that end, the ENVI provides most of the data needed to assess which practices are useful and which are not. I found the data that it provides very useful, especially in regards to my “always on” power consumption, which shows how much power I am constantly drawing due to devices that never really turn completely off. I was also shocked at just how inefficient and power hungry some of my appliances are. Through close monitoring, it was pretty clear which appliances were the main offenders, though I must say that the process would have been less user intensive with some addition appliance monitoring devices. There was some information that came as no surprise. For instance, I already knew that energy consumption was at its highest in the evening and lowest overnight. It followed typical “peak usage” hours with few deviations. Still, seeing it graphed out and knowing that if I was subject to multiple rates based on “peak hours” that I would be able to see real time calculations of my energy costs was a nice bonus.
I did find that the ENVI monitor lacked some information that I would like to have seen on its display. Most notably, while it will tell you what the real time daily and monthly energy costs are at any given moment, it does not show many averages. Sure, I know that when my dryer is running I’m consuming a lot of energy and I know that, at that moment, my energy costs are sky high. However, I don’t run my dryer all the time and I would like to see what my average is for that day, week, or month without necessarily having to pull up a custom graph or get busy with Excel making my own chart. It would be nice to see more data, specifically averages, added to the cycle in the ENVI.
The ENVI’s data is most useful when viewed with Google Powermeter, plus the Powermeter interface allows the user to monitor energy use from afar with using a web browser or smartphone apps. I did not opt to try any of the third party apps because, quite frankly, user reviews of the software were less than glowing and, besides, Google Powermeter satisfied my need for instant graphs and detailed information.